Friday 23 November 2007

I've gone from curious to furious,and now have to find a new Butcher!


Oh poopers! Relations with my Butcher's shop just went down the drain, and none of the badness needed to happen at all.
For over 25 years, as often as possible, it has been my absolute pleasure to cook a roast dinner on a Sunday.
Sunday roast was always a central occasion in my childhood week. We all love food like mama made it, so even when I lived on my own, I found nothing easier than to shove a chicken leg into the oven with a couple of spuds. Steam up some fresh crunchy veg, and Bob's your uncle. A veritable feast.
Now that I make my own Yorkshire pudding too, there are few mysteries left for me in the process.
A couple of months ago I popped into my Butcher's, an award-winning establishment on the western side of the city, and bought a rolled beef rib roast. This a cut I'd never buy in the supermarket, but on the day that was in it, I found myself pointing out a lump of meat to the young man behind the counter. He assured me that it was a lovely tender piece of meat.
At that time I wasn't even sure if we had guests coming, so thinking it would be relatively inexpensive, I told him I'd have it.
When I found out that the meat cost 20 quid, I wished I'd invested in a bit of Silverside, or even better, rib on the bone. But I trusted my Butcher. They had never let me down .
Come Sunday, there were five hungry mouths at my table, and although we all feasted on crunchy roasties, yummy Yorkshire pudding, roasted parsnip, braised onions, and a plethora of veggies in wine gravy, none of us were able to enjoy the meat. There was so much sinew and gristle that I had to plead with my guests not to be too polite, but spit it out and leave it.
How disappointing!
Aware of all the good years' service I have enjoyed at said Butcher's, the next time I was passing I popped in and told one of the blokes behind the counter what had happened.
To be honest, I felt a bit embarrassed, and I told him so. Clearly there was nothing much he could do. Nevertheless, he was very sympathetic, and told me that the next time I came in to buy something, I should tell another member of staff, and they'd see what they could do.
Can't say fairer than that. As it happens, what with trips to England, at least a month passed before I was back in the Butcher's, to buy a free range chicken.
Clutching my intended purchase, I explained to the bloke behind the counter how his colleague had asked me to tell my tale of woe when I next made a purchase.
'Oh well, that's the way it goes. Sorry about that."
"Yes, I know. But why do you think your colleague asked me to tell somebody the story again?"
He gave me a big warm smile and told me that maybe he'd said that because they were always interested in feedback.
Up to that moment, I hadn't really been bothered how this all turned out. Certainly, I hadn't gone in there to get a refund.
I had gone in there to get a chicken, and follow the advice I was given the last time, if the mood took me.
But now my mood was overtaking me. As I approached the woman at the till, she asked me how I was.
"Not the best!" said I, relating the whole story again.
She then proceeded to tell me, at great length, what I already knew. Maybe it was because I have a penis. I do find that women in Irish shops seem to assume that if you have a dangly thing between your legs you cannot possibly understand food and the cooking thereof.
She told me how it wasn't a good cut. I told her I knew that.
She told me that it was just the fat that was the problem. I told her that this was not fat, which would have rendered down in the cooking. It was sinew and gristle and inedible.
She told me that if I had only brought it in so that himself the Butcher could have seen it, then she might have been able to do something about it.
I asked if that meant she didn't believe what I was saying.
Oh no, she said, of course she believed me, but there was nothing she could do if she hadn't seen the meat.
By now, I really couldn't be arsed to inform her how incredibly unlikely it was that I would have either the time or inclination to wrap up the shitty leftovers of a very disappointing dinner and bring them back to her shop.
Yet she persisted, and in the process her inability to help and generally patronising attitude managed to turn my mildly disappointed ambivalence into a raging fury.
Once again she told me that it wasn't a good cut of meat to buy. She told me that she would never buy that cut. And once again, trying to be a better human being, I declined to point out that her own employee had told me what a good piece of meat it was, how tender it would be.
Neither did I mention that it cost 20 quid, which is a juicy chunk out of this household's grocery budget.
It just wasn't worth it.
Finally, I'd had enough. I paid for my chicken and made for the door. She called out.
"You do understand, don't you? There's nothing I can do!"
"I do I do I do. Oh, and you'll understand that I won't be back."
A few minutes earlier, I'd walked into that Butcher's shop, feeling there was no real reason why they should refund me any money.
But in an astonishing inversion of customer service, by simply following the advice of their own employee, I had been dragged into an argument I didn't want to have. I had been treated like a moron, and ended up furious, wondering why she hadn't just given me a couple of quid off the chicken I was buying, for no other reason than to save a little goodwill and customer loyalty.
Now I have to find another Butcher's . What a bloomin' shame!

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland

Mild-mannered dreams make waking up much easier!


Rarely a night goes by without my brain concocting a dream that either thrills, mystifies, terrifies or beguiles.
If I am about to try something for the first time, anything from a weekend away to a job, I dream of people and places I have never seen or been to. These 'Adventure Dreams', as I call them, often involve a small town set on the side of a mountain, bustling and friendly, and generally I wake feeling elated. I have no idea whatsoever where the place may be, but if I ever find it and settle there, I wonder if my dreams will be of here and now!
My dreams have never been dull, and without doubt the strongest ones begin with me lying in my own bed, because from that point it's easier to believe that everything that happens is fiercely real.
People who I admire, trust and respect inform me that these dreams are, in fact, Astral Planes, or flights, and I am not going to poo-poo such an idea. Quite simply I do not know, but if I am doing something wilful, I wonder why I let such terrible things happen to me?
Back in my seedy North London bedroom, I dreamed that I was lying in my bed, when round the closed door came a nebulous black shape. It settled by my bedside, and stretched out to reveal a long triangular 'Clockwork Orange' steel blade, which it then plunged swiftly and fully deep into my chest.
Whilst living on my own in a farmhouse deep in the countryside, I dreamed I was lying in my bed, where I was almost seduced by a couple of women, who proceeded to become skeletal zombies, dragging me through my own home and then pinning me down as they hacksawed their way through my left ankle.
Honest, Doc, I'm as sane as you are.
Every night, more enthralling nonsense. My dream-making abilities are quite amazing, especially when you take into account the altered state my addled old head finds itself in some nights as it hits the pillow.
There are the usual smattering of sexual and erotic encounters, but ever since the very unwelcome advent of a dream-state guilty conscience, some of the action would barely make an 18 rating.
The heaviest and most exhausting periods come when I am ready and able to write fiction, but prevented from doing so by the distractions and imperatives of real life. Despite all my efforts to behave like a calm and mature human being, I go a bit mental altogether, my brain boils over, and I have to endure three or four full-on rushing crushing toiling broiling adventure dreams every night, night after night, week after week, until I sit here at the keyboard and spill.
Such a period came around a month ago, and coincided with my having read Cormac McCarthy's brilliant post-apocalyptic novel, 'The Road'.
For three weeks, three times nightly, showing in my DreamoPlex, Charlie deals with different post apocalyptic worlds, where he almost gets a bit of nookie but never does because he chooses to leg it off into the dust storm, burning hellhole, boiling mud pit.
One memorable night, when I lived free and happy in Co. Mayo, I dreamed I could fly. Even though it has never come again, I can still recall the feeling, and for that I give thanks.
So it was hardly surprising that the other morning I awoke feeling faintly and privately embarrassed. Used to a diet of dreams that offer either splendid excitement and adrenaline rushes, or self-help symbolism of the subtle-as-a-baseball-bat-hitting-you-on-the-back-of-the-head variety, I had dreamed that I could run.
Yes, just that, On a personal level, it does make some sense, because although I am perfectly built for walking ("Perfect? Are you having a laugh? Perfect, maybe, in yer dreams!" cry my own long-suffering knees from below) and can march for miles and miles, I am not, and have never been built for running.
Thus it seems only fair that I should award myself that ability in dreams.
But it's a bit sad, isn't it? I mean, while others soar above the clouds, make fantastic multi-orgasmic love to whichever gender and number takes their fancy, I am running, like a latterday oval-shaped Forrest Gump.
Even more embarrassing was the way it all began. Not for me a starting block, alongside some worthy fellow competitors. Not a race to rescue a damsel in distress, nor an emotional rush to a lovers' reconciliation.
No. My running skills emerged only as I was being chased by Frank Lampard off the playing surface of Chelsea's Stamford Bridge pitch.
Oh look, gosh. I can run run and run.
I wake up. I can't run.
Hmm, maybe there's something to be said for having mild dreams after all.
Although it was massively wonderful to discover that I had not been murdered by the steel blade-wielding black shape, and deeply emotionally gratifying to see that the ankle that had been so agonisingly hacksawed off my foot was, in fact, still attached to the end of my leg, life comes a little easier and smoother when waking requires only a simple reminder that I'll still be keeping one foot on the ground with each step I take.
Many thanks for all the ingenious emails offering differing definitions of 'disingenuous'.
Máirtín from Carna tickled my pleasure zones with his tirade about hotels, and their attitude to towels.
In nearly all of the hotel bathrooms of the world is a printed message about how the environment suffers from the overuse of towels, and how we can help save the planet by not wanting fresh clean towels every day.
'Do you know how many towels are washed each day in all the hotels of the world?' it asks.
Máirtín considers this to be the pinnacle (or nadir?) of disingenuousness. Admitting it may not be a serious problem, he asks:
'Do they not know why people like to stay in hotels? Do they really think we buy that nonsense about them caring from the environment, when really all they are trying to do is cut down on the costs of their own laundry bill? Disingenuous: Please don't use the towels because then we have to clean them, er, I mean save the planet.'
Keep those emails coming, good people.

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Please let me 'Let you go!' before you 'Let me go!'


Is there anything more painfully embarrassing that being in the company of someone who is trying to sound interleckshual by using big posh words that they don't understand?
We all do it sometimes, to see if we can get away with it, and more often than not whoever hears it and knows better will say nothing, not only to save your blushes, but also because they don't want to come over as pedantic or prickish.
For years I had a bit of a problem with my 'eclectic ' and 'esoteric'. Not exactly the vital bread and butter vocabulary of your daily trip to the shops, they nevertheless seemed to crop up in conversation, and until I was sure exactly which one meant what, I used to hang back and hope for the best.
Words, like the languages they build, change with usage and time. These days, if one is described as being 'sophisticated', one might be considered a fully-rounded and complex human being, but not so long ago the same term was used to show that somebody had become corrupted; that they had lost their innocence.
As our morals and ethics morph to apply to the times in which we live, so too our language adapts itself though common usage to carry new meanings, hip buzzwords and zippy idiom.
With insincerity= running riot in our society, it comes as no surprise that at the moment there is a bit of a hoo-haa going on in wordy circles about 'disingenuous'.
You hardly ever used to hear it, and now politicians and journalists are bringing it up as often as mama seagull's herring breakfast.
In the past, 'disingenuous' was used to describe someone who was giving a false impression of being honest and open, whilst actually being insincere, often for personal gain.
Now though, it has been hijacked by those who would naturally be disingenuous sons of bitches, to mean something altogether more positive.
In its latest incarnation, 'disingenuous' describes that moment when your opinion is sought by others who consider you something of an expert on a subject, and you respond by pretending you know very little about it.
"Come on Charlie, tell us what Chelsea used to be like!"
"Who? Me? Why well, I wouldn't know really, cof cof."
Sad, officially sad that that was the only way I could think of to illustrate the new 'disingenuous'.
The reason I'm going on and on about the word is that there is a despicable and completely yukky behaviour pattern we all use that, for me, defines 'disingenuous' for once, for better or worse, richer or poorer.
We've all done it, said it, or heard it down the phone line:
"Okay then - I'll let you go!"
Oh yeh baby, you know that one, don't you! It's nasty and mean and dishonest and, as the dictionary suggests for 'disingenuous', morally fraudulent.
When you hear it said to you, you know what's going on.
Instead of just being honest and coming right out with
"Look, I have a life and you clearly don't, so I've got to go now, you boring tedious drip of a human, because I have important places to be and real people in my life who really love me, while you, quite clearly do not, because if you had, you wouldn't be wittering on and on about insignificant and, well, let's be honest, pathetic almost-but-not-quite- worthy topics of conversation. So byzee-bye, oh, and and next time you think you might call me for a chat, don't."
There is something so sneaky and weak about 'I'll let you go!", that it upsets me quite profoundly. The suggestion is that we trust each other so little, respect each other and desire honesty in such tiny amounts, that we have neither the courage nor the decency to say simply:
"Look - I have to go now! Thanks for calling, but I've got to dash!'
Somehow we have to pretend that the other person is much more important than us, and that we are somehow boring them, when clearly it is the other way around.
And yes, even though I conveniently can't quite remember when, I am sure I've done it myself. So I'm not raising the flag atop high moral ground, just aware that, as language reflects and runs through every facet of our lives, so this kind of verbal shenanigan only appears as a turn for the worse.
Maybe the next time somebody does it to me, I'll just say
"Yeh, thanks, 'cos I was beginning to think you'd got verbal diarrhoea of the typhoid kind, mate! Don't you ever shut up?"
Conveniently moving from shutting up to peace and quiet, it is noise itself that will drive me from this city.
I love living in Galway, and having lived in the country for many years, I know that even on a quiet country day, there are still sounds, noises made by humans that feel invasive. Tractors drone and dribble as they run astride hills; chainsaws spit and sizzle as they cut down trees, and diesel tanker trucks tick over for hours on end.
But today I was woken at 7:15 by a passenger coach reversing, and then breakfasted to the delightful song of an angle grinder at the slowest building site in the world, still running at the back of my house.
Then came a couple of lads with leaf blowers at the front of the house, followed by hydraulic drills tearing tarmac and cracking concrete back at the site.
Later I was serenaded by the bass boom of a function at the hotel, followed by the late night voices of people shouting their good-byes as they left the 'do'.
Finally, my day and my patience ran out, when naked, insane and apoplectic, I reach for the phone at 3:45a.m., to ask them to tell their drunken guests who are partying outside at the back, right by my bedroom window, to shut up, please.
Wish I wasn't so sensitive to noise, but I am.
According to a new report (sure, aren't they great with their new reports!) scientists recently proved beyond doubt that stress from noise pollution causes untold heart attacks.
Whatever noises the countryside makes during the day, at night I recall hearing nothing, save for the sound of God's wind, and, occasionally, my own!

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland